Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Brantford to Glen Morris

After a lovely night in the air conditioning, we set out bright and early, but even so, as we stepped outside it felt like entering a blast furnace. We're definitely ready for this heat wave to pass!

When we reached the trailhead, which is located at the back of a large and unaesthetic industrial park, there were half a dozen cars parked at it, and it was busy with cyclists, dog walkers, and joggers eager to get their exercise in before the worst of the heat arrived.


The first section of trail led us around three sides of a regenerating field that had been cleared for construction and then apparently abandoned. It was a mix of weeds and young poplars, and we later learned that this is a good spot to see Clay-coloured and Field Sparrows. The Clay-coloured Sparrow would have been a nice addition to our list, but the only birds we saw in the field were a small flock of intrepid American Goldfinches.

We were soon found ourselves on the SC Johnson Trail, which was a wide, well-maintained, stone dust surfaced rail trail. This 14 km long trail follows the railbed of the old Erie and Northern Railway, and connects Brantford to Paris. It travels through farm fields, rare prairie grasslands, and forested areas, and periodically offers beautiful views over the wide, shallow, meandering Grand River.


We crossed high above the busy highway 403 on a fenced bridge, that uncharacteristically wasn't caged, and then found ourselves in a shady, green tunnel. We were passed by lots of cyclists, some racing along at speed and others peddling more sedately. One energetic pair of cyclists that we,'d seen yesterday called out to us as they zipped past 'Hey, it's our favourite gypsies, good luck!'  We never thought of ourselves as wanderers, but the notion being 'Canadian Gypsies' is a little appealing!

It took us about an hour to reach the historic town of Paris. As we approached it the trail became very busy, with lots of families out for a Canada Day ride. We paused on an exposed section of trail, high above the river, to enjoy a view of the stone and brick town, with its large limestone church, down below.


As we continued on we fell into conversation with a group of female cyclists. They were very enthusiastic about the hike and the goal of encouraging youth to reconnect to nature, and made a very generous and spontaneous contribution to our endeavours. These random acts of kindness always leave us humbled and grateful. Today it made us realize one of the many reasons to celebrate Canadians and what is currently Canada. 

We took a small detour into downtown Paris to meet Kayla, who we missed yesterday, despite her best efforts to find us on the trail in Brantford. On the way we came across one of the large, painted, wooden barn quilt blocks that have been distributed across Canada and the United States. The center of this square depicted the rail bridge over the Grand River that is visible from the center of town.

These large, colourful wooden squares are hung on barns and other large buildings, like museums and libraries. The painted designs usually feature an historical event, product, or point of local interest, and they are used to promote tourism in rural areas. The trend was started by Donna Sue Graves in 2001 in Adam's County Ohio, when she hung a square on her barn to honour her mother, who was an accomplished quilter. There are now Barn Quilt Trails, each featuring 20 or more squares, that can be viewed by downloading a map and driving along country roads in British Columbia, Ontario, and New Brunswick as well as in 43 US States.

Paris is a small community that was established in the early 1800's at the point where the Nith River empties into the Grand River. It was named for the nearby deposits of gypsum, which is a material used to make plaster of Paris. It once supported a thriving industrial community that included three mills, a tannery, a woolen factory, and a foundry. Today evidence of some of these buildings can still be seen along the river, giving it an historic feel that helped it earn the designation of "Prettiest little town in Canada."


When we walked across the bridge into town the main street was full of holiday makers out enjoying Canada Day, and there were numerous canoes, kayaks, and inflatable rafts out on the water. The brightly coloured flower baskets and boutique shops gave the town a festive air.

We made our way down to Grand Experiences to meet Kayla. Grand Experiences is an outdoor adventure company that offers a variety of canoeing, kayaking, rafting, and tubing experiences along the Grand River to fit different itineraries and skill levels, providing instruction, gear rental, and shuttles to or from the drop off or pickup points so you don't have to paddle against the current. They also offer bike rentals, and self guided or guided hiking tours along the Bruce Trail and other local trails. Kayla's enthusiasm for the outdoors, passion for bird and nature photography, and love of nature were so inspiring. We spent a happy hour or so exchanging stories about outdoor excursions, and it is clear she is destined for adventure. 

After parting ways we stopped for an ice cream on the main street, and enjoyed it beside a plaque commemorating the first 'long-distance' telephone call. The telephone was invented in 1874 by Alexander Graham Bell in Brantford, Ontario, and the first call to test the new technology was made to Brantford, Ontario. We had been aware of this bit of history from previous visits, but we now saw it with new eyes having visited Alexander Graham Bell's other home in Baddeck, on Cape Breton Island last year and learning about some of his other work.

Enjoying our time in Paris we ventured around the community enjoying the history, architecture and feel of the town!

As we walked along the Grand River to rejoin the trail we passed the picturesque and much-photographed Penman's Dam, which was constructed in 1918 to power the town's mills. Many people were out fishing at the long, curving dam, as well as enjoying picnics and snapping a few holiday photos in the nearby park.


After a very short stretch of sidewalk we were back on the shady, green tunnel of rail trail. The sunlight was filtering through the canopy, a slight breeze was stirring the hot, humid air, and the scent of summer wildflowers was strong. As we hiked we were part of an almost continuous stream of cyclists, reminding us that the flow of humans is a part of what keeps recreational trails alive.


We climbed the steps to the Murray Lookout and took a break there while enjoying the view and watching people in innertubes float lazily by on the river below. At this lookout you can see stone piers and abutements spanning across the river which used to support the metal truss bridge used by the Grand Trunk Railway. The bridge was abandoned during the Great Depression, and these structures are some of the oldest remains of the railway system left.

As we approached Glen Morris, we came across a patch of created tallgrass prairie. This region was once covered with open and lightly treed tallgrass prairies and oak savannahs, but today only around 1% of the original habitats remain. This property is managed to support a community of unique plants, animals, and birds by the Brant Resource Stewardship Network, Tallgrass Ontario, and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. It isn't open to the public, but it would have been exciting to discover what bird species call it home.


When we reach the trailhead in Glen Morris we were in for a surprise. It was absolutely packed with people, and there were cars parked all the way up the road into the little town. It turns out this is one of the access points for Grand Experiences, and a lot of people were clearly out on the water for the holiday. When we used to hike this trail in the past it was never as busy as this!


We have the incredible fortune of being hosted tonight in Glen Morris. Our kind and generous hosts met us along the way and treated us to a wonderful evening of physically distanced cold drinks, bbq, neighborhood fireworks, and great conversation. Ellen and Gerry are avid birders, and it was very interesting hearing about their many birding adventures in different parts of the world, discussing sustainable living, and learning about their experiences building their own ecohouse.

Their property is beautifully landscaped to support a huge and diverse population of birds, and as we chatted on the porch we enjoyed watching Eastern Kingbirds, Baltimore Orioles, Mourning Doves, Chipping Sparrows, a Common Grackle, American Goldfinches, Cedar Waxwings, a Northern Cardinal, Tree Swallows, and House Wrens, among species. It was truly a wonderful way to spend Canada Day!

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